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Constructive Alignment Course Design in Higher Education

By McGraw-Hill Education 2 years agoNo Comments
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Instructors and professors who are teaching students in a university lecture hall or a college classroom need to do more than just provide students with the facts and figures to know for a particular subject. Rather, their role is to instill in their students an ability to learn the material on their own and remain self-motivated throughout the rest of their college careers.

Many educational professionals who work in higher education apply the theory of constructive alignment to their course outlines. This theory allows instructors to create course designs that encourage the students to reach the desired learning outcome while completing interconnected activities. It’s an effective course design theory that, when executed properly, allows learners of all types and backgrounds to be successful in the course.


What is Constructive Alignment? 

According to a study completed by John Biggs and published in The Higher Education Academy, constructive alignment is actually a two-part theory for educational professionals to apply within their own classrooms. The study, titled “Aligning Teaching for Constructing Learning,” aims to explain the importance of creating a learning environment that allows the learner to construct their own meaning and conclusion from the coursework. Ideally, the coursework is aligned and interconnected, ultimately giving all students within the classroom the opportunity to reach the same conclusion and outcome upon completing the course.

The two steps of the constructive alignment theory, as defined by Biggs, are:

  • Constructive aspect of the theory — in the constructive portion of constructive alignment, educators in the collegiate level are encouraged to create learning activities that allow students to construct meaning. This means that the teacher must go beyond listing facts and forcing students to memorize those facts. Rather, the instructor must provide the learner with an opportunity to assess the question, determine an outcome and come to a conclusion on their own.
  • Alignment aspect of the theory — the alignment aspect of constructive alignment requires the instructor to pull together all learning opportunities so that they are in continuation with one another. Ultimately, the course should be aligned so that the learner cannot complete it without coming to the desired conclusion and outcome at the end of the experience.

A course that is designed using constructive alignment not only allows the student to master the topic that is being addressed but it also allows them to understand it on a deeper level. In order to create a course using the constructive alignment theory, an educator must identify the intended learning outcomes, select activities that will allow students to reach those outcomes, assess the results of the activities and assignments to verify that the intended outcomes are being reached, and provide the student with a final grade for the course.

While the constructive alignment theory provides instructors with a specific set of components that must be adhered to during the course design process, it is not restrictive in the sense that it can be applied to many different types of courses and in a variety of learning environments. An instructor teaching a large lecture class on a scientific topic can use constructive alignment course design just as well as a literary professor who is working with an intimate group of students in a smaller classroom setting.


What are the Benefits of Constructive Alignment Course Design in a Collegiate Setting?

In a way, constructive alignment provides instructors with a structured option for creating a course design that will be both effective and fluid. It offers an outline to professors and instructors who wish to apply this theory within their own classroom, without forcing them to stick to a rigid curriculum for their course. There is still enough room for freedom of thought and expression within the course design, and it can be utilized in nearly every subject matter or course.

4 Benefits of Constructive Alignment

According to the “Constructive Alignment in University Teaching” study written by John Biggs and published in the HERDSA Review of Higher Education, benefits of constructive alignment course design in higher education include:

  • Providing instructors with an opportunity to create a standardized course in which all students can be fairly assessed. Given the fact that the intended learning goals are clearly identified by the instructor and the course is designed so that each activity provides the students with another opportunity to work toward reaching those goals, it can be easier for instructors to assess learners regardless of their learning style or background.
  • Transparency is improved within the course, allowing students to better identify with the learning process and focus on the intended goals. In a way, the constructive course design becomes a web that students cannot escape from without acquiring the knowledge and experience that they need from the course. Their results can be compared with other students in similar settings from different universities, which allow instructors to better assess their own course design.
  • It allows instructors to evaluate not only the student performance, but also the learning opportunities within the course itself. All instructors are given the responsibility of assessing students at the end of the course and providing them with a grade after completing the work. With constructive alignment course design, the instructor does not have to fear that their course left some students at a disadvantage. They can fairly grade the course, and take note of what worked as well as what did not throughout the experience.
  • Students leave the course with improved critical thinking and analysis skills. Constructive alignment course design requires students to take accountability for the learning experience. They need to do more than recite facts and figures back to the instructor in order to earn a passing grade. By developing critical thinking skills, the students who are enrolled in these courses are more likely to be successful in their future endeavors.


What are Potential Issues Regarding the Constructive Alignment Theory? 

While there are many benefits to applying the constructive alignment theory to course design in a higher education learning environment, there are some potential issues and disadvantages to consider as well prior to adopting the theory. Some of the issues associated with the constructive alignment course design theory include:

  • Teachers and instructors become too focused on the structure of the course, without taking time to evaluate the results after the fact. One of the responsibilities of educators who employ the constructive alignment theory in their own course designs is that they must evaluate the design of the course continuously, and determine whether it is allowing students to meet the intended learning goals. Evaluation and updates are necessary in order to reach a course design that is truly effective and efficient.
  • Some teachers and instructors are unable to properly apply the constructive alignment theory because of rigid curriculum requirements within the learning institution. Depending on the institution itself, there may be frameworks in place that must be abided by which limit the ability of the instructor to utilize this theory within their own course designs. In some cases, instructors are able to incorporate their requirements while also applying the theory to their course.
  • Many higher learning institutions are facing financial difficulties, and instructors are forced to do a significant amount of work in a short amount of time. They do not always have the time and resources available to effectively apply the constructive alignment course design theory to their syllabi. Several decades ago, a professor at a college may have been responsible for one or two courses, while today’s educators in higher education institutions are required to manage several courses while also prioritizing their research. This can make it difficult for instructors to create a course design that applies the principles of the constructive alignment theory. It is one of the most common disadvantages associated with the theory, as an increasing number of higher learning institutions are facing budget restraints and fiscal challenges.
  • There are a number of established instructors who have been creating coursework on the same topics for many years, and they do not feel that they need to assess or evaluate their methodology. Professionals who have been working in a particular environment for many years, or who consider themselves to be experienced, are often resistant to changing the way that they do things on a daily basis.

Constructive alignment course design is not a new advent in educational development. In fact, it has been researched, studied and applied for more than six decades. The goal of the constructive alignment theory is to provide educators with the resources they need and the structure that is necessary to create an effective learning environment for all students within the classroom. Beyond the fact that it allows students to be successful within the classroom and during that individual course, it also provides students with the tools they need to be successful throughout their entire higher education experience.

  Course Design, Higher Education
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